The Valles Caldera is a special place, one of my favorite places on the planet. For years it has been a place of serenity, a place to hit the ‘reset’ button when my stress level hits critical mass. Gazing across the expansive meadow from highway 4 puts life in perspective, even on a less than ideal day, because no matter how bad a day might seem, it would be far worse if this caldera wasn’t dormant. It would be fatal.

The 13.7-mile wide caldera is one of three “supervolcanoes” in the United States. A supervolcano is capable of producing eruptions thousands of times larger than a normal volcano. Fortunately, these eruptions are rare, because they are catastrophic, altering weather patterns for years and raining ash across vast areas. The last time the Valles Caldera erupted it emitted 150 cubic miles of lava, propelling ash as far as Iowa. That was 1.2 million years ago.

Valle Grande

Valles Caldera

Ownership rights were bequeathed by the King of Spain as part of a Spanish land grant. However, it has operated most recently as the Baca Ranch. It was sold to the federal government in 2000 for $101 million. Congress declared Valles Caldera a preserve, authorizing it to be run as a nonprofit ranch, overseen by a board of trustees. The goal is to continue operating the property as a working ranch while developing recreational opportunities for the public. As a result, the Valles Caldera has become a unique experiment in public lands management.

In December, 2013 the 89,000 acres of the Valles Caldera Preserve became accessible to the public, with most of the preserve’s forests, meadows and streams open on a limited basis for hiking, mountain biking, fishing and other activities. What motorists see from highway 4 is only a small portion of the caldera. The large meadow familiar to travelers on that route is the Valle Grande, which is the largest of several grass valleys. It is the only valley accessible by a paved road. The visitor’s center is in the middle of the Valle Grande. Visitors can catch shuttles into the backcountry, with a daily quota on the number of private vehicles allowed…currently 32.

Geology of the Caldera

Hot springs, streams, fumaroles, natural gas seeps and volcanic domes dot the caldera floor, with a variety of igneous stone, from pumice to obsidian, bearing witness to a variety of volcanic activity in the past. The highest point in the caldera is Redondo Peak at 11,253-feet (3,430 m). It is a resurgent lava dome within the caldera. Additionally, the preserve encompasses vast grasslands, supporting an abundance of wildlife, including seventeen rare species and New Mexico’s 2nd largest herd of elk.

Today, the Valle Caldera is a glorious landscape of mountains, grassy meadows and streams. It is home to one of the largest elk herds in the state as well as bears, coyotes, cougars and other critters. Alert motorists traversing highway 4 in the Jemez often see the herds of elk grazing in the vast meadow of Valle Grande. However, despite the benign appearance, magma lurks three miles beneath the surface. The aspen and conifer forested hills are actually resurgent volcanic domes, earthen lava bubbles, that emerged in the aftermath of the massive eruption that created the caldera.

Redondo Peak
Redondo Peak is a resurgent dome. It is like a lava pimple that never burst.

Supervolcano

A supervolcano is a volcano that disperses magma and rocky particles over an area greater than 240 cubic miles (1000 cubic kilometers). To illustrate, Mount Vesuvius produced 100,000 cubic yards of magma per second during the massive explosion that buried Pompeii in 79 AD. If Mount Vesuvius had been a supervolcano, it would have produced 100 million cubic yards of magma per second. Modern mankind has never witnessed the eruption of a supervolcano and might not survive the spectacle. Supervolcano eruptions are devastating, extinction inducing events.

There are three supervolcanos clustered in the western United States: Yellowstone Caldera in Wyoming, Long Valley Caldera in California, and the Valles Caldera in New Mexico. Fortunately, as apocalyptic forces of nature go, the Valles Caldera is one of the smaller volcanoes in the supervolcano class. It is also one of the oldest.

A caldera is formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself, usually triggered by a large eruption emptying the magma chamber beneath the surface, with the earth’s crust caving into the void, creating a large crater. The Valles Caldera is the younger of two calderas at this location. When the Valles Caldera formed, the process of collapsing buried an older caldera, the Toledo Caldera, which in turn may have collapsed over older calderas. In short, geologists don’t know for sure.

Ancient lake bed at the Valles Caldera

Jemez Volcanic Field

These calderas and associated volcanic structures lie within the Jemez Volcanic Field. This volcanic field lies above the intersection of the Rio Grande Rift, which runs north-south through New Mexico, and the Jemez Lineament, which extends from southeastern Arizona northeast to western Oklahoma. Volcanic activity is related to the movements of the earth’s plates at this intersection.

Tectonic activity continues to shape the caldera and the surrounding area. For example, the Cerros del Rio volcanic field, which forms the eastern Pajarito Plateau and the Caja del Rio, is even older than the Toledo Caldera. The lower Bandelier tuff, which can be observed along canyon walls west of Valles Caldera, including San Diego Canyon, is related to the eruption and collapse of the Toledo Caldera.

Geologists believe the upper Bandelier tuff was deposited during the eruption and collapse of the Valles Caldera. Additionally, they credit the El Cajete Pumice, Battleship Rock Ignimbrite, Banco Bonito Rhyolite, and the VC-1 Rhyolite to a more recent volcanic eruption, approximately 50,000–60,000 years ago. An active geothermal system with hot springs and fumaroles exists today, which is a clear indication that this volcanic hotbed is dormant…not dead.

The Valles caldera and surrounding volcanic structures are one of the most thoroughly studied caldera complexes in the United States. The main caldera has a diameter of 13.7 miles, which encompasses a field of volcanoes, with the many resurgent domes partitioning the caldera into five sections. Each section is a “valle”, which is Spanish for valley without trees. The largest of these, Valle Grande, is a beautiful, pastoral meadow over six miles long and three miles wide.

Valles Caldera

History of the Valles Caldera

Humans have inhabited and hunted the Valles Caldera since prehistoric times. Archaeologists have found spear points over 11,000 years old. Several indigenous tribes frequented the caldera, often migrating seasonally to hunt. They mined obsidian for spear and arrow points and used it for trade. Geologists have found obsidian from the Valles Caldera across the Southwest.

Eventually, other people arrived, including tribes from neighboring regions. Navajo, Spanish colonialists and Mexican settlers vied for the fertile land, with periodic conflict, raids and confrontation. When New Mexico became a territory of the United States in 1948, commercial ranching and logging interests moved into the caldera, which provoked conflict with the existing inhabitants. In fact, the caldera was a backdrop for the Indian wars with the U.S Army from 1850-1880.

Birds like musical notes at the Valles Caldera

Baca Ranch

In 1876 the caldera became part of the Baca Ranch. The Bacas were a wealthy Spanish family from northeastern New Mexico. The King of Spain gave them the land as compensation for the termination of a prior land grant given to their family near Las Vegas during the colonial period. They called the 100,000-acre parcel Baca Location number one. Subsequently the land exchanged hands many times, alternately used for grazing, logging and hunting, often with dire consequences. For instance, Frank Bond, a businessman based in nearby Española, ran up to 30,000 sheep in the caldera in the 1930s. Overgrazing damaged the watersheds and, decades later, they haven’t fully recovered.

The Dunigan family, from Abilene, Texas, purchased the property in 1963. Unfortunately, the transaction did not include timber rights and the New Mexico Lumber Company logged heavily, removing significant amounts of old-growth douglas fir and ponderosa pine. Mr. Dunigan managed to secure the timber rights in the 1970s and slowed the logging. He negotiated unsuccessfully with the National Park Service and the US Forest Service for possible sale of the property in the 1980s. However, after he passed away, the Dunigan family sold the entire surface estate of 95,000 acres (380 km2), and seven-eighths of the geothermal mineral estate, to the federal government for $101 million in 2000.

Valle Grande

Valles Caldera Preservation Act

The Valles Caldera Preservation Act was signed by President Clinton on July 25, 2000. The legislation provided for the federal purchase of the property and the historic ranch nestled in the caldera. Many sites on the Baca Ranch are considered culturally significant to the neighboring pueblos and all of the land is considered sacred. For example, Santa Clara Pueblo obtained five thousand acres of the purchase, including the sacred headwaters of Santa Clara Creek. Additionally, the Park Service ceded three hundred acres to Bandelier National Monument.

Before the federal government acquired the caldera, it had been in the hands of ranchers for 140 years, and in the hands of the prior inhabitants for thousands of years prior to that. Now that the land is public, the board of trustees limits the number of visitors to protect the integrity of the landscape and “emphasize quality of experience over quantity of experiences.” For example, they allow cars in, but they limit the number daily. If you don’t have a reservation, arrive early in the day.

Thunderstorms are common in the caldera and the back roads get washed out when it rains heavily. This can be a daily occurrence during monsoon season. Watch the weather. Be aware. Don’t litter. Be careful with fire of any sort. Power lines on private property neighboring the preserve ignited the Las Conchas Fire in July, 2011. The fire burned 30,000 acres in the preserve and 150,000 acres in the Jemez. The fire and subsequent flooding did an enormous amount of damage to Bandelier National Monument.

MAP

Valles Caldera National Preserve

39201 New Mexico Highway 4
Jemez Springs, NM 87025
(575) 829-4100
info@vallescaldera.gov

Mailing Address
18161 Highway 4
Jemez Springs, NM 87025
(505) 661-3333, #3 for visitor center

Directions

From Jemez Springs, NM: Follow Highway 4 north. Preserve is about 22 miles from Jemez Springs. Look for the Main Gate at Mile Marker 39.2.

From Los Alamos, NM: Take Trinity Drive to Diamond. Take a left on Diamond, then a right on West Jemez Road to the intersection with State Highway 4. Take a right [away from Bandelier National Monument], following the highway up and into the Jemez Mountains.) The Preserve is 18 miles up Highway 4 from Los Alamos. Look for the Main Gate at Mile Marker 39.2.

Fees

Entrance Fee – By Vehicle – $20
Non-commercial car, van, pickup truck, motorcycle or RV (no per-person fee)
Entrance Fee – By Foot – $10
Entry into the preserve by foot, bicycle, horse, or non-commercial bus: $10 per person aged 16 and older (academic fee waivers may be available for curriculum-based educational trips)

Hours

The main entrance is open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Severe winter weather may impact operating hours. Please visit the Valles Caldera National Preserve’s website for the most up-to-date information.

Summer Season
Sunday: 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM
Monday: 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM
Tuesday: 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM
Wednesday: 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM
Thursday: 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM
Friday: 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM
Saturday: 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM

Winter Season
Sunday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Monday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Tuesday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Wednesday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Thursday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Friday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Saturday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Prairie Dog at the Valles Caldera

Safety

  • Drink plenty of water. I recommend taking at least 1 gallon (4 liters) of water per person per day. Take high energy snacks.
  • Take frequent breaks out of the sun to avoid heat stroke.
  • Stay on designated trails. Carry a compass and fully charged cell phone. Keep landmarks in sight. Cell phone service is available in the Valle Grande area of the preserve.
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses. Apply sunscreen even in winter.
  • Beware of lightning. During a lightning storms, take cover in a solid, closed-door building or in your vehicle. If you are not near any of shelter, squat low to the ground and place your hands over your ears and your head between your knees.
  • Dress appropriately. Temperatures are hot during the day in the summer and drop drastically after sunset, from 20 to 30 degrees. Dress with the assumption that the weather will change, i.e. wear loose, light-colored clothing to help keep your body cooler in the summer, but have a light jacket on hand for when the sun goes down.
  • Be bear aware. Please slow down and use pullouts to watch wildlife and do not approach wildlife.
  • Control your pet. They don’t allow pets on most trails, in the backcountry, or along streams.
  • The nearest gas station is twenty miles from the main entrance.

Valles CalderaWeather

The weather changes dramatically based on season and/or time of day. For example, springs are usually wet and lush, summers are moderate, and fall is cool. Also, there can be a lot of snow during the winter months.

Average temperatures are 22°F (-6 C) in January and 60°F (16 C) in July. Temperatures range from a high of 84°F (29 C) in summer to -30°F (-34C) in winter. Rainfall is heavier during summer monsoon rains during July and August, with winter snowstorms December through March. The temperature is much cooler than lower elevations and varies dramatically between day and night. Based on casual observation and preparedness, I assume that it will rain every day in the caldera.

Ranger Led Activities

Guided hikes are led by rangers or volunteers that have an in-depth knowledge of the preserve. In addition, each guided hike focuses on a different topic or theme. They offer some hikes once per season, whereas others are offered more frequently. Please check the calendar for dates and times. Guided Van tours are also available for 1–6 hours. Topics include wildlife, geology, history, artists and archaeology.

Fly Fishing Clinics

Volunteers from New Mexico Trout conduct fly fishing clinics, giving up to 20 participants the opportunity to fish the waters of the preserve. Participants spend a half day learning about equipment, tackle, knots, stream insect sampling and identification. Participants have time to practice casting in the morning and then head for the stream in the afternoon. Pre-register for the clinics by calling (575) 829-4100, ext. 3.

Events

  • Fly Fishing Clinics, (575) 829-4100, ext. 3.
  • Preserve Birthday Bash–July
  • Jemez Mountains Elk Festival–September

Cabin built for the film "Missing"

Valles Caldera Activities & Recreation

The Valles Caldera is an amazing place with 54 miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty, 30 miles of trout streams and a variety of activities, including climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, hunting, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, sleigh rides and wildlife viewing. There are over 51 mammals, 117 birds, 6 reptiles, 3 amphibians and 6 fish species thriving in the caldera. Most trails are accessible by shuttle. Guided hikes are available.

There are several special events hosted throughout the year, including a marathon, an 80 mile mountain bike ride, moonlight skiing, and the Jemez Mountains Elk Festival. When exploring this vast volcanic wonder, practice “leave no trace” principles. Go prepared. Don’t remove vegetation, rocks, animals, natural or historic objects. Pack out all trash. If you see trash that isn’t your own, pack that out too.

Winter Recreation

Winter is a spectacular time to explore the Valles Caldera National Preserve. For cross country skiers, the Valle is a pristine paradise of powder. There are 29 miles of groomed trails and 11,000+ acres of snow for trailblazers. Snowshoes are also welcome!  When the weather cooperates, the Preserve hosts moonlight skiing and snow shoeing activities, complete with bonfires for warmth and navigation, and horse drawn sleigh rides.

Snow volume varies from year to year. Call the visitor center for current conditions at (575) 829-4100, option #3. The ski and snowshoe season is usually mid-November to mid-March. The trails are open all year to hiking. Whether skiing a groomed trail in a developed area or venturing into the back country, visitors should be aware of potential hazards, including unpredictable wildlife, rapidly changing weather conditions, deep snow and snow covered streams.

  • Dress properly and know about layering for severe winter temperatures to prevent chilling and overheating. Layer for insulation. Wear waterproof clothing. Wear sunglasses. Use sunscreen. Take plenty of water.
  • Classic track is set on a few groomed trails. All unplowed roads and trails are open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
  • None of the streams have bridges. Carry a USGS topographic map and a compass and know how to use them. Cell coverage is virtually non-existent in the backcountry.
  • Talk with park rangers before you leave on any trip, because they occasionally close some areas to protect wildlife.
  • Include allowances for limited daylight, snow conditions, temperature extremes, and the number of people in the group, their experience and physical condition.
  • Learn as much as you can about winter survival.
  • Narrow racing skis are great for groomed trails, but provide little surface area to break new trails.

Summer Recreation

Open daily from mid-May to mid-October.

Biking

Biking the CalderaUse extreme caution when riding on preserve roads; roads are winding and narrow while shoulders are either narrow or nonexistent. Vehicle traffic can be heavy at times. There are no bicycle paths along roadways. Bicycles are subject to the same traffic rules as automobiles. They allow bicycling on established public roads and designated routes. Cyclists must ride single-file. Commonly accepted road courtesy in the mountains calls for slower traffic to pull over and stop to allow congestion behind to pass where appropriate shoulder space is available.

Stay on designated open trails and roads. They maintain backcountry trails and roads to provide identifiable routes that concentrate and support traffic. This reduces soil erosion and minimizes environmental impact.

The rangers require a backcountry vehicle permit if you wish to access the backcountry with your vehicle; however, they do not require a permit if you park at the visitor center and bike in.

Tips for Riders

  • Wear safety gear, including helmet and high visibility clothing.
  • Carry tools and spare parts, and inspect brakes for worn cables and pads.
  • Know how to navigate across the landscape. Plan your route according to time, terrain, and abilities.
  • Always let someone know your outdoor plans including your anticipated time of return.
  • Motorists frequently do not see bicyclists or fail to give them sufficient space on the road. Drivers sometimes pass on hill crests, blind curves, or in oncoming traffic.

Valle Grande

Camping

There is no camping available in the caldera, though visitors can apply for a special use permit. There are numerous camping options available in Bandelier and the Santa Fe National Forest.

Bandelier National Monument

Santa Fe National Forest Campgrounds

Coyote Ranger District

Cuba Ranger District

 Jemez Ranger District

Group Camping

Coyote Ranger District

Cuba Ranger District

    Jemez Ranger District

RV Camping

Coyote Ranger District

Elk at the Valles CalderaFishing

A backcountry vehicle permit is required to drive personal vehicles into the backcountry. No backcountry vehicle permit is required to fish any preserve waters accessed by foot, bike or horse.

Fishing Rules

  • All anglers are required to check in at the Valle Grande Visitor Center before fishing the waters within the preserve to obtain a free fishing permit.
  • Anglers are responsible for being familiar with New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) fishing regulations and must have in their possession a valid NMDGF fishing license and Habitat Stamp.
  • All waters within the preserve fall under NMDGF’s designation of “Special Trout Waters.” Only artificial flies and lures with single, barbless hooks are permitted. The preserve bag limit is two trout, at least 15 inches each.
  • No bait such as worms, grasshoppers, salmon eggs, corn etc.
  • To minimize the chance of the fatal whirling disease, waders and privately owned nets should be soaked in a 5% bleach solution for one minute and thoroughly dried before used within the preserve.
  • Fishing is permitted year-round when streams are not frozen. Vehicle access to certain streams may not be available year-round. Vehicle access requires a backcountry vehicle permit, which has seasonal date restrictions.

Fishing Outfitters and Guides

Valles Caldera National Preserve allows but does not provide outfitter or guide services. Only authorized outfitters or guides are permitted to conduct business within the preserve. To work with a guide, please visit their list of permitted fishing guides.

Cabin built for the film "Missing"

Trails

Trails are not maintained nor are they regularly patrolled. Be careful when heading into the backcountry. Mother Nature holds all the cards and there aren’t a lot of other humans out there to help. Stay on established trails, because taking shortcuts causes trail erosion.  Horses and mules have the right of way on trails.

Much of the Valles Caldera is over 8,000 feet in elevation. Even very fit individuals coming from lower elevations may experience altitude issues. Symptoms include headaches, shortness of breath, insomnia and rapid heartbeat. Usually it only takes a few days to acclimate. To alleviate symptoms drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol, don’t skip meals and get plenty of rest. If you have never hiked before, or are traveling with children, check out the shorter trails and heed the tips below.

Hiking Tips
  • Carry (and drink) plenty of water. Dehydration is one of the biggest hazards. Drink a minimum of 1 quart every 2 hours. Be sure to filter and treat stream or spring water. Although you may not feel thirsty, the “thinner” air at high elevations actually results in increased water evaporation from your lungs. Drinking extra water may prevent a bad headache or other altitude symptoms.
  • Ultraviolet light is stronger in the mountains because there is less atmosphere for the sunlight to pass through. Wear sunscreen, a hat, sun glasses and consider wearing a long-sleeved shirt if you are out in the sun for an extended period.
  • Carry a headlamp on every hike, even short day hikes.
  • Sturdy footwear with good traction might save an ankle.
  • Hiking up steep trails can exacerbate minor/moderate health or medical issues—know your limits and pay attention to how you’re feeling.
  • When hiking in a group, each member of the group should carry some water and food in case the party becomes separated, and the group should make a plan for where to meet up (at the vehicle, at the trailhead, etc.) if the members become separated.
  • The Preserve allows service animals. No pets. They allow dogs on designated trails (La Jara, Valle Grande, and Coyote Call), but they must be leashed at all times.

Valles Caldera

Horseback Riding

Given the history of ranching in the area, horses have been part of the Valles Caldera landscape for centuries. As a result, there are equestrian trails available for horses, mules, ponies, llamas, and burros.

Each group of riders must check in at the Valle Grande Visitor Center to obtain a horse permit. There is no additional fee for the permit beyond the preserve entrance fee. Much of the preserve is over 8,000 feet in elevation. Acclimation of livestock is advised.

Rules of the Trail

  • The Preserve prohibits livestock users from establishing new trails and from the short cutting of trails and switchbacks.
  • The park rangers do not allow riding faster than a trotd.
  • The park does not permit loose herding.
  • Remove manure from around trailers and haul home.
  • Environmental conditions (snowpack, erosion, flooding) can close certain trails to stock use.
  • The Preserve requires certified weed free forage (hay, straw, mulch). They don’t allow forage in the backcountry or grazing.
  • Travel in single file.
  • Tying to trees for periods longer than is needed to load and unload is prohibited.
  • Riders shall not ride double except for an adult/child combination.
  • Youth riders (16 years and under) are required to wear helmets.
  • Riders must be prepared to cross paths with other recreational users or vehicles.
  • The preserve does allow livestock grazing through a permit process and chances are likely that you will encounter wranglers working the livestock.

Elk at the Valles Caldera

Hunting

Elk Hunting Overview | Between 2,500 and 3,000 elk occupy the caldera, making it one of New Mexico’s premier elk hunting locations. .

Turkey Hunting Overview | The Preserve is home to an estimated 400 Merriam Turkeys from April thru December. Merriam Turkeys, one of the three subspecies found in New Mexico, are noted for their striking plumage, wariness and keen eyesight. Turkey hunting, whether with bow or shotgun, can be a challenge for all skill levels.

How To Apply For Hunts | The elk and turkey hunting lotteries/drawings for the Valles Caldera National Preserve are part of the draw managed by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF). Information on how to apply for the state drawings can be found on the NMDGF website or by calling (888) 248-6866. The Valles Caldera National Preserve is Unit 6B.

Special Use Permit to Hunt the Valles Caldera Required

After being issued a NMDGF hunting license, hunters must obtain a special use permit with the Valles Caldera National Preserve prior to their hunt. Permits will be issued as early as two days prior to the hunt start date through the last day of the hunt. In addition to entrance fees, hunters are required to pay a $35 special use permit fee.

Road through the Valles Caldera

Backcountry Vehicle Permit

Some of the best adventures take place in the backcountry, with hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, rock climbing, cross-country skking, snowshoeing and wildlife viewing available at the preserve. The backcountry can be accessed by foot, mountain bike, horseback or personal vehicle. To clarify, a permit is not needed if accessing by foot, mountain bike, skis or snowshoes. If accessing by vehicle or horse, a back country vehicle permit or equestrian permit is required.

How to Obtain a Backcountry Permit

You can pick up permits from the Valle Grande Visitor Center, but there is a daily limit and they don’t accept reservations. Due to the limits, it is best to get there early if you want to explore the backcountry, especially on weekends.

  • The Preserve issues thirty-five backcountry vehicle permits each day from May 15 to September 30. Access may be unavailable if the roads are unsafe for travel.
  • Permit holders are allowed to travel on designated roads and to park in designated parking areas.
  • The backcountry vehicle route is unpaved. The dirt and gravel road can be slick during heavy rains. Ruts and washboarding are inevitable. Flash flooding and washouts may occur during heavy rains, especially monsoon season (July-August).
  • The permit allows the permit holder and all passengers access to the backcountry. Passenger vehicles and motorcycles are permitted. 4WD or high clearance vehicles are strongly encouraged. They do not permit buses, off-road vehicles (ATVs, UTVs, etc.) and non-street legal motorcycles.
  • There are no additional fees for the permit beyond the preserve entrance fee.
  • The backcountry vehicle pass is valid between 8:00 AM to 7:30 PM on the date of access. However, the permit does not grant overnight access. Permit holders need to leave the backcountry no later than 7:00 PM to check out before the main gate closes at 8:00 PM.
  • Permit holders need to exit the preserve the same way they came in.
  • Speed limit is 15 mph thru the Valle Grande district and 25 mph everywhere else.
  • Smoking is allowed inside your vehicle: remember cigarette butts are trash and should be disposed of properly.
  • They only allow service animals in the backcountry, no pets.
  • Permits are non-transferable.
  • Permits can be revoked for violations of preserve rules & regulations.
  • Information EVERY visitor needs to know.

Snowflake obsidian at the Valles Caldera

Parts of the Caldera

East Fork of the Jemez River

The East Fork of the Jemez River begins its journey at the eastern end of the Valle Grande, meandering southwest to be joined by Jaramillo Creek. The confluence of the East Fork and Jaramillo waters provide an ideal feeding area for brown and rainbow trout and creates a near perfect fishing hole. Additionally, the narrow Jaramillo is an excellent hiding place for large trout, who seek shadows under the grass banks that overhang the narrow creek.

Visitors cross the East Fork river when traveling to the visitor center in the Valle Grande. The river continues its journey under the main road and into a secluded valley where it exits the preserve. At that point the river widens, deepens, and slows, which is an excellent habitat for large trout. Keep in mind, the East Fork presents the same challenges as the San Antonio in terms of having to sneak up on the fish. It is home to brown and rainbow trout that grow as large as 18″.

San Antonio Creek and Rito de los Indios

Below the north rim of the volcanic caldera lies twelve miles of the San Antonio Creek. The creek meanders through the lush mountain meadows of the Valle San Antonio and is home to thousands of brown trout. Additionally, elk, bear, coyote and mountain bluebirds are frequent visitors on the creek bank.

  • 14+ miles of creek
  • keep up to 5 fish
  • reserve 2 – 6 miles for you and your friends
  • Highest trout density of any New Mexico stream
  • East Fork of the Jemez River
  • 9+ miles of stream
  • catch and release

The northern stretch is only two feet wide in some areas, with few trees and shrubs to cover your approach. Later, the river widens at the lower end, and flows over long, gravel bed shallows. However, the crystal clear water and lack of cover require stealth and an accurate cast to catch brown trout.

The Rito de los Indios is a small stream located in the northeast corner of the preserve and flows into San Antonio Creek.

Overlooking the Valle Grande

Historic Ranch Headquarters

Headquarters was the base and residential site used by the prior owners for large scale sheep and cattle ranching operations since the 1860s. Today, preserve staff use the historic structures to interpret the colorful ranching history of the 88,900 acres once known as Baca Location No 1.

North Rim

The north rim offers visitors, who are willing to put in the effort, breathtaking views of the Valles Caldera. From within the preserve, La Garita is the route of choice for hikers and mountain bikers to enjoy spectacular views of mix conifer forests and the many mountain meadows and valleys below.

South Rim

The south rim provides some amazing views of the Valle Grande to the north and Dome Wilderness to the south. The easiest access to south rim is from the Coyote Call Trailhead. Hike ¼ mile counterclockwise on the Coyote Call loop trail and then take the Rabbit Ridge spur an additional two miles to the ridge. The route is well marked.

Valles Caldera

Lodging

Spending a day in the quiet expanse of the Valles Caldera National Preserve is worth the effort of traveling to this remote location. The preserve is a secret garden, nestled inside a geologic wonder, hidden beyond Los Alamos in the Jemez Mountains.

  • The Valles Caldera has on site lodging from May to December.  The Lodge has eight bedrooms that can accommodate up to sixteen people. The Bunkhouse has three bedrooms that can accommodate up to twelve people.
  • The Preserve allows primitive camping as part of special events. Off site lodging is open year round.
  • The Science Education center in Jemez Springs has twenty-five bedrooms that can sleep up to fifty people.

Camping is also available in the national forest bordering the preserve. Please see options above. Less rustic accommodations are available in Jemez Springs or Los Alamos.

Special Permits

Certain types of activities require a special use permit. Special park use is defined as a short-term activity that takes place in a preserve area, and that:

  1. provides a benefit to an individual, group or organization rather than the public at large;
  2. requires written authorization and some degree of management control from the National Park Service (NPS) in order to protect preserve resources and the public interest;
  3. is not prohibited by law or regulation;
  4. is not initiated, sponsored, or conducted by the NPS;and is not managed under a concession contract, a recreation activity for which the NPS charges a fee, or a lease.

Examples include: weddings, ceremonies, public assemblies, etc.

Examples of a First-Amendment Activity include: a church service, political event, or Freedom of Speech act.

For more information regarding Special Use Permits or to determine if your activity requires one, please call 575-829-4100, select option #4.

Submit applications for permits well in advance, preferably 2-3 months before the event, for consideration and processing.

Longmire Cabin

Filmed at the Caldera

  • 1971 Shoot Out
  • 1977 The Medicine Hat Stallion (TV)
  • 1982 The Gambler (TV)
  • 1994 Troublemakers
  • 1995 Buffalo Girls (TV)
  • 1997 Last Stand at Saber River (TV)
  • 2003 The Missing
  • 2007 Seraphim Falls
  • 2013 The Lone Ranger
  • 2014 Longmire (TV)

Other Sights Nearby

Highway 4 by the Valles Caldera

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